by Sharon Jones
U.S. Department of Education statistics reveal an 85 percent increase in the number of college students earning multiple majors in the last 10 years. While some academic administrators believe that the trend reflects resume-building during a difficult job market, some students are showing foresight by preparing for multi-disciplinary careers. A student with a double major in biology and philosophy was awarded a two-year fellowship in bioethics by the National Institutes of Health. He plans to attend medical school after completing this training.
Should you consider more than one major or minor? This article looks at the pros and cons and presents a table showing major and minor combinations you might consider for specific careers.
Multiple College Majors: Pros
What are some reasons that students give for earning a double (or even triple) major?
- More is better. Employers will recognize the hard work required to achieve more than one major.
- Students can graduate on time and explore many interests through Advanced Placement (AP) credits. Students sometimes enter college at the sophomore or junior level via AP exam scores.
- “One for me and one for mom.” Parents proclaim that a student’s choice of major is impractical and pressure a student to choose another one that seems more marketable.
- Diverse interests. Some people are “Renaissance Souls,” according to Margaret Lobenstine’s book by the same name, and can’t choose just one focus. A career-change in the future may require different skills from those gained in any given major.
- Jobs are increasingly multidisciplinary and require different skills. Universities typically react slowly to employer needs for qualified staff to fill new and emerging careers. Institutions of higher education may consider certain disciplines to be outside their organizational mission. To acquire diverse skills for a new career field, a student may need to mix and match majors, minors, and electives.
Employers are usually more flexible than students expect in recruiting applicants with majors that don’t seem to match targeted jobs. A couple of examples spotlight employers open to an eclectic academic mix:
(Are you)… wary of signing your life away to an uninspiring corporation? … We’re not your typical finance firm — we hire Ph.D.s in philosophy, MFAs in poetry, and former spelling bee champions. We offer brilliant colleagues, flexible schedules, free food, and no dress code. Plus, we have a supercomputer. No matter what you’ve studied, if you’re smart, accomplished, and willing to learn, you’ll fit right in. — D.E. Shaw (global investment and technology development firm)
We are currently looking to hire three to four people. However, each position contains more than one area of responsibility, all of which can be mixed-and-matched. And who are WE to tell YOU the best combination? Instead, we are looking to YOU to tell US the best combination of responsibilities to meet your strengths and interests. — Global Kids (leadership program)
Exceptions include jobs in which the major is directly related to the job: chemist, nurse, accountant and others. A second major is not necessary to qualify for most jobs. A minor or careful selection of electives can increase a student’s marketability.
Multiple College Majors: Cons
What are some of the negatives to multiple majors and minors?
- Additional cost and time to graduate. A year of extra tuition and living expenses plus foregone income during the time a student may have been employed.
- Employers suspect that a student lacks focus. Hiring decision-makers may doubt that an applicant is sincerely interested in a career field that is very different from majors that required such additional commitment.
- Lack of other important experience. Multiple majors require additional time that could otherwise be spent on internships, study abroad, leadership roles in extracurricular activities, and relevant volunteer work.
- The majors do not complement one another enough to add value. A psychology major gets another major in sociology; a biology major chooses a second degree in chemistry.
Major and Minor Combinations for Specific Careers
Some possible combinations of majors, minors, and electives or skills for specific careers are listed below.
Public Policy and Research: Social Science, Education, Health
Final Thoughts on Multiple College Majors/Minors
Should you choose more than one major (or major and minors)? It depends on your career goals and other factors (cost, time to graduate, need for multidisciplinary skills). Consult your college career-services staff, academic advisors, alumni who work in the targeted occupation, and other resources to guide your decision.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Sharon Jones is a career advisor, author, and speaker. She is an assistant director at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a career consultant at Career Moves. Jones specializes in college students (undergraduate and graduate), dual-career couples, military veterans, and applicants for federal employment. She is co-author of The Parent’s Crash Course in Career Planning: Helping Your College Student Succeed. Her background includes university career services, a human-resources consulting firm, private practice, Fortune 500 corporations, and the military.